COVID Christmas Casserole of Madness

I feel like if you are travelling Australia and visiting people catching COVID is somewhat inevitable. Don’t get me wrong we have been doing everything we can to minimise the risks, we have masks, we social distance as much as possible from others, we’re fully vaccinated, I wash my hands obsessively because it has become very obvious it is physically impossible for me not to touch my face. Unfortunately our luck ran out when I got a call from Phoebe the morning we left the Snowy Mountains that we’d been identified as a close contact of a case. What I was surprised about was how utterly incompetent not only the public health information system was in Canberra, but how useless it also was in NSW and VIC.

That morning dawned in spectacular hues of pink and orange over the Tom Groggin campsite. We had breakfast, packed up, and were trundling our way into Victoria when I received the dreaded phone call. Our dinner at Lazy Su was at the exact same window as when a COVID case was there, what made matters worse was the social distancing while we were there was sub optimal as it was so busy. Because Matt was driving I started the nightmare of working out what we were meant to do. There were 3 main issues I identified: 1) We were no longer in the state where we were exposed, 2) We didn’t have much in the way of food in the van and 3) We have no fixed address, no toilet and therefore live in “unsuitable accomodation” for quarantine. I started off by calling CBR public health and explained we were now in Victoria rather than the ACT, their instructions were clear and simple. If you are in another state you now need to follow their rules. Ok, I naively thought to myself, that’s easy enough to do. I then called Victoria Health and things started to go poorly. At first they couldn’t grasp the concept of how someone had travelled to another state as a close contact and it took a tedious length of time for me to to get them to understand that people can travel a long way in a few days while living in a van. I then spent close to two hours on the phone trying to work out where we were meant to stay and not a single person was able to give me a plan. Right, I said to Matt, stuff it, it’s nearly Christmas (22nd December), we just better find a testing clinic ASAP, wear masks if we need to get out of the van, and work out what we do after we get a swab. Following some hasty research online I realised that the Victorian Health System was so over run with tests we wouldn’t get ours back in time to meet with my family for Christmas, so I picked a testing hub in Albury NSW banking on their system being at least a little bit faster. After getting swabs shoved up our snoots we drove back into Victoria and I got back on the phone. Another couple of hours later I realised that there was next to no system for people with no fixed address, that the people on the helpline don’t have any great understanding of infectious disease, and the entire process was at breaking point. I kid you not the man I spoke to on the phone told Matt and I to stay at a caravan park with shared facilities. I explained to him that if the worst case scenario occurred and Matt and I had COVID that it probably wouldn’t be in the best interest of the community if we stayed somewhere full of grey nomads and asked if he had any other ideas. He did not. Right, I thought to myself, I’m not having that, we are going to go bush, proper bush, and see no one, avoid everything, and do our business in a home made hole. And so we did.

Our second day of quarantine was possibly more annoying than the first. I got up and made us crepes for breakfast while making a mental note that we maybe had 2 days of food left in the van, not ideal. I then got back on the phone and after another 3 hours managed to get a hold of a male contact tracer that gave us the answers we needed. He told us to stay put, but if we ran out of food we could do a contactless pick up at Coles. Excellent. We went on a nice walk around our new massive back yard and basically sat around doing bugger all. Matt provided me with some light entertainment when he decided that rather than digging a hole to do his business in like a normal person stuck in the bush running out of food and waiting for swab results, that he would make a hole near a log and then sit on the log like it was a toilet. This some how resulted in him wetting his pants. I laughed so hard when he got back into camp I nearly wet mine too. Ah good times (note: I asked permission before sharing this story). That evening I got a miraculous text message from NSW health that my swab was negative and I was free. Matt still hadn’t received his so I called the pathology lab, explained the situation and checked all his details. The woman on the phone realised the phone number for his results was wrong so we fixed that. She also told me that our swabs were probably split into different batches and Matts would take longer to process but she’d chase it up.

Christmas Eve morning and still no text message for Matt. I’m not going to lie I was in a bit of a state, Christmas is my absolute favourite holiday and I desperately wanted to spend it with my family not shitting in a hole and eating flour and water for dinner. I think he realised how upset I was so he suggested that we just go to my aunt and uncles house and loiter out the front until we got the ok. The reality was if I didn’t have it the chance he would was minimal and our friends results also came back negative. We arrived at the house at lunch time and at 2pm Matt received the amazing news that he was also negative. I was so happy. We made it to Christmas.

Campsite Reviews

Random forrest in the middle of nowhere – Zero facilities, nice trees, turned into our own personal hell where all I did was talk on the phone. $Free – 5/10.

Canberra, Chips for Dinner, and the Highest People in Australia

The delightful evening of cheese and cocktails with Phoebe and Annaliese definitely refreshed us and put us in the mood for some more refined activities in the capital of Australia. Our day started with a morning walk to a lovely cafe in Watson and a stroll along a path complete with some community made bike tracks and a spoon village. After digesting brunch we went to see an exhibition of Jeffrey Smart’s work in the National Gallery of Australia which Phoebe had booked us tickets for a few weeks prior. I was really excited as I love his paintings and hoped that his talent would also impress Matt. We arrived a little bit too early to go into the exhibition gallery so we looked around some of the other works, my favourite were some stockings made to look like boobs that were draped over a chair, absolutely ridiculous. The Jeffery Smart exhibition was just as good as I thought it was going to be and we all spent over an hour looking at his work. It’s too hard to describe what he does so I took some photos and include them below so hopefully you can also enjoy how talented he is.

We spent the afternoon relaxing at home, just hanging out and enjoying each others company until our dinner reservation at Lazy Su. After a wait for our table we sat down and enjoyed a mouthwatering banquet of modern asian food. The next morning we said farewell and drove off into the rain and towards our next destination, The Snowy Mountains. We stopped at a bakery for lunch because it was pouring and neither of us wanted to put a wrap together outside the van in the deluge. In the afternoon we visited the Snowy Hydro Discovery Center in Cooma which I wasn’t very excited to see as my dad had worked for Hydro Tasmania for 20 years and I know more than enough about hydroelectricity for a lifetime (sorry dad). I’ll be honest the entire Snowy Mountain Scheme as a whole was very interesting. Back on the wet and freezing roads we snaked our way up the mountains to Jindabyne and then onto the national park to a site called Island Bend where we encountered the worst weather for the entire trip. It was blowing a gale, raining/hailing, and to top things off there was some sort of weird alpine thunderstorm. The weather was that horrendous apart from occasionally making the dash to the loo we barricaded ourselves in the van. We couldn’t even cook dinner and had to be satisfied with the sad combination of chips and muesli bars.

The next morning we woke up to beautiful blue skies and light winds, it could not have been any more different from the night before. We looked at the forecast and had a chat about our planned attempt to summit Mount Kosciuszko, deciding that tomorrow would be the best option and therefore we should find another hike to do to warm up. The Mount Kosciuszko national park has no shortage of amazing trails but the one we ended up doing was the Illawong Walk, a 5km hike through the Snowy River Valley where we saw delicate alpine plants, rushing crystal streams, snow capped peaks, and a little hut. It was perfect. During the afternoon we explored around the area and dropped into Charlotte Pass in order to scope out our planned route for the next day. The issue was there are 3 routes up Kosciuszko, two from CP and one from Thredbo. As a school kid Matt had done the 13km Thredbo hike, the 24km Main Range Trail looked a tad too ambitious, so we decided on the 19km Summit Walk. I went to bed very excited for the next day.

We reached the trail head the next day at the impressive time of 8:30am and set off on what I was hoping would be a trip highlight. It was just spectacular. We were so lucky with the weather, it was warm, sunny, but there was just enough snow around to have a couple of impromptu snowball fights along the way. The climb was gradual and only slightly noticeable and after a couple of hours we reached the top, the highest point in Australia. Rather than getting a photo around the summit marker Matt wanted to stand on top of it so he scrambled up and with the assistance from one of the bystanders managed to pull me up with him. A nice bloke took some photos of us, the highest people in Australia, and then helped us both down safely. We celebrated in the sun with a beer and some lunch. It was brilliant being the highest person drinking beer in Australia. On the way back down we both started to tire, by the final 3km it is fair to say we were both completely wrecked. I forced down a muesli bar and got Matt to do the same in case it was the dreaded bonk but no, we are both just unfit. Once we were back in the van and blissfully out of our hiking boots I uploaded our walk to Strava, we managed the impressive time of 4h05m, 19.91km, 408m vert. No wonder we were buggered. The adventures for the day however weren’t quite over. We rocked up to Tom Groggin Campground where I put the finishing touches on my cross stitch and made dinner. While we were eating we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by kangaroos with one young male repeatedly trying to steal Matt’s food. If you have ever eaten with Matt or been near a food item that he wants you would know that is a terrible idea (very food orientated guy) and next thing I know Matt is standing up and the roo is full on having a go, sitting back on his tail and putting his little paws up ready to box. Needless to say that did not go over well and Matt cuffed the cheeky roo around the head with an open hand, he slunk away and then death stared Matt through the rest of dinner.

Campsite Reviews

Island Bend Campground – A stunning spot next to the Snowy River. I think the toilets must have just been renovated as they looked very new. I’d love to come back one day when there was snow. $6pp/pn – 8/10.

Tom Groggin Campground – This one is definitely going to be at least in my top 10 if not my top 5 spots of the trip. It was just perfect. Set in a mixture of bush, river, and plains Tom Groggin had enough space so that everyone could spread out and enjoy the peace and quiet. Good facilities, amazing bird life, and naughty roos. $6pp/pn – 8/10.

The South Coast

From Wollongong we made our way along the twisting steep roads through the mountains and up to the pretty highland town of Robertson the home of the Big Potato. After taking a couple of happy snaps and buying a very entertaining car sticker we popped into a local cafe and picked out some fancy cheese for our lunch later. There was a Grand Condo cycling event in the area and so the town was absolutely filled with cyclists which made us feel right at home. We did a scenic loop down to Fitzroy Falls, a stunning multi drop waterfall situated in the rainforest, had our delicious cheese for lunch and then hiked out to the lookouts. That afternoon we drove into Kangaroo Valley enjoying the views of the lush green paddocks that had greatly benefited from the rain that plagued Matt and I for weeks. I was really excited for our campsite for the night because of its reputation of being filled with wombats. We were not disappointed, at dusk they started popping up everywhere, fighting and running around after each other. That night we were woken multiple times as we were shaken around in our bed by the wombats under the van scratching their butts. It was brilliant.

Matt has family on the south coast of NSW and they’d kindly offered to host us for 3 days at their beautiful home up in the hills outside Moruya. On the way in we swung by Nowra so that Matt could pop into one of the clinics the company he works for has and have a look at the set up and chat with the staff there. We had lunch down the road at Red Point Beach and then worked our way to Jeanette and Kerry’s house where we met their numerous cats, dogs, horse, and a very grumpy goat.

We spent most of Tuesday relaxing at home and enjoying unusual luxuries like having a coach and a kettle. That afternoon we all piled into the 4WD and went exploring through the hills admiring some of Kerry’s construction work and enjoying some banter with Matt’s cousins. Kerry stopped for a lady that had broken down on the side of the road and showed us how to fix a hose with tape which enabled her to drive off again, no worries. The next day we drove down to Tilba Tilba and did some touristy things like the cheese shop, wandering around the beautiful little town, and having an amazing lunch at a local vineyard/brewery. In the afternoon we drove over to Anne and Graham’s house and were served a delicious variety of cakes. Before we left Graham offered to clean the van for us with his amazing bus washing machine which we were beyond grateful for because poor Egg is definitely looking worse for wear.

The next morning we went down to the boardwalk at Narooma to look for rays and enjoy the sunshine. Last time we were in this part of NSW there were rays everywhere so I was a little bit disappointed they weren’t swimming around everywhere. Luckily by the time we reached the end of the boardwalk we spotted an absolutely massive sting ray swimming around the boat ramp. Matt and I were both keen for fish and chips for lunch so we drove around the corner and bought a delicious lunch of fresh seafood.

On Friday morning we said our goodbyes to the family and all of the animals and started the drive to Canberra with one last tourist stop at the Mogo Wildlife Park. It was a lovely zoo and we both paid a little bit extra at entry to feed the giraffes . The drive up the hill to Canberra was not especially long but it was windy and we decided to take a break at a Nepalese restaurant in Braidwood. We reached the ACT in the late afternoon and drove to my friends house where we would be staying for the weekend.

Campsite Reviews

We’re feeling very blessed to have been able to stay with friends and family for the last few days. It’s just lovely to spend time inside on a couch and with access to a hot shower.

Lazy Sydney

What a treat to wake up in a huge hotel bed with fancy linen rather than in a king single bed with sheets that haven’t been washed for a month. We got up and walked across the road to a small cafe with good reviews and cheap food for breakfast. Matt was getting picked up early by his boss so I found myself alone in the hotel with nothing planned at 8am. I decided to make the most of the amenities and went to the gym to do some weights and have a run on the treadmill. I was pleasantly surprised to find I can still run 4km without stopping and feeling too awful despite months of laziness. I found a Vietnamese restaurant for lunch and then went for a walk to Oxford Street and got my nails done for Christmas. Matt got back from work around 5pm and we attempted to make ourselves presentable to go out for dinner with Matts boss. It was really nice to meet him and listen to them both chat about allied health. I asked a few questions as recently I’ve been thinking that nursing is not a job I’m going to be able to continue to do for the rest of my working life. When I quit in March I had burn out and despite months and months of amazing holiday the thought of going back to do what I used to fills me with dread.

The next morning Matt left early again after grabbing a take away breakfast from the nice cafe. I decided to see the sites and walked down to the Museum to look at the 2021 Nature Photographer of the Year exhibition. There were amazing images but I found myself subconsciously dragged into the rest of the museum which was just fantastic. It might be my favourite in Australia (sorry TMAG). The displays were amazing and so varied and each item was attached to a story about what it was and how it came to be in the museum.

On Friday as Matt left for work I decided to have a lazy day. In the morning I went to the cafe and did some planning and date organisation for the next section of the trip. Feeling energetic and caffeinated I popped down to the gym, did another session, and then went upstairs and blobbed around the hotel room watching movies and doing my cross stitch. That evening there was a huge storm which I watched roll in over the city.

We left Sydney on Saturday and drove south with a plan to reach Wollongong for the night. On the way we drove into Royal National Park. Established in 1879 it is the second oldest national park in the world after Yellowstone in the US. Neither of us knew much about it but we were pleasantly surprised by the variety of landscape and the beautiful scenery. We parked up at Wattamolla and walked The Coast Track out to Eagle Rock and Curracurrong Falls stopping along the way multiple times to enjoy the views off the top of cliffs and down to the raging ocean below. There was an incredible wind blowing and we turned the corner to see the falls was doing a terrible job at being a waterfall with most of it being sent hurtling back up the cliff and all over Matt and I. A reversed waterfall was not something we were expecting to see. Back in the van we took the coast road around towards the Gong stopping at the top to admire the sea bridge and have a hotdog for lunch. We found a nice little caravan park by the sea and set up for the night.

Campsite Reviews

Bulli Beach Tourist Park – Nice park right near the beach but apparently they have a lot of issues with theft. We didn’t have anything taken and had a pleasant stay. $31pn – 8/10.

It’s the Blue Mountains Jim but Not as We Know It

Travelling during COVID definitely has its perks and we discovered another one when we reached the lookout for the Three Sisters and found it almost completely empty. I’ve only visited the Blue Mountains one other time about 20 years ago and one of the only things that I remember is the huge crowds, this time I think there were maybe 5 other people. Matt and I grabbed a coffee and then as the mist began to clear walked down to the sisters for a better look. We decided since there were next to no people around we’d make the most of it and partake in the very touristy Scenic World. Entry was $50 each which gave us unlimited rides on the railway, skyway, and cableway. We decided to do the horrifying skyway first because I knew I’d psych myself out of doing it if we didn’t get to it straight away, my fear of heights is getting so much better but it isn’t there yet. I am still very proud that I got on the disgustingly high gondola (270m) to enjoy the views of Katoomba Falls and Jamison Valley. Our second activity was the enjoyable railway down to the boardwalk which has an impressive record of being the steepest passenger railway in the world. Down in the rainforest, we came face to face with a range of animatronic dinosaurs thanks to timing our visit with their recent installation. We wandered around for a while and decided to go back up, I couldn’t face another cable car so took the railway back up while Matt took the cableway.

For lunch, we avoided town and took the van out to a lookout where we made some wraps and enjoyed the view in spite of the overcast weather. It is a stunning part of the world with valleys stretching to the horizon and walls of vertical sandstone all around us. We went back to Katoomba and had an amazing hot chocolate for afternoon tea before we went back to camp for the night.

The next morning we woke up reasonably early because we wanted to get another walk in before we drove to Sydney so that Matt could attend a workshop for his job. We decided on Wentworth falls as the day was beautifully sunny and it was in the general direction that we were heading. The 1.4km hike was steep but the views were worth the slog with the valleys, cliffs, and waterfalls surrounding us. We were a bit disappointed to discover that the National Pass was shut, it’ll have to go on the list for the next trip.

The drive into Sydney was as uneventful as Sydney traffic gets and we reached the Rydges Hotel in the late afternoon and checked in. There was a little bit of drama when we realised that the van wouldn’t fit in the undercover car park but the hotel kindly let us park it in the driveway for the duration of our stay. That night we went out to a local pub with Matt’s boss which was really nice, I enjoyed chatting with him about his business and exercise physiology in general as well as sipping on cocktails and eating a delicious dinner. It’s going to be such a lovely change to stay in a hotel for a while.

Campground Reviews

Blackheath Glen Reserve – Tiny little free camp in the blue mountains with clean toilets but very limited sites. We saw so many Gang Gang cockatoos here. $Free – 5/10.

Sunshine, Glow Worms, and a Ghost Town

Thursday morning broke bright and sunny much to our amazement. We said goodbye to Sheep and his hospitality and got back on the open road. Van life is definitely a lot sweeter with a clean set of sheets that isn’t chronically damp from endless rain. Our destination was Goulburn River National Park but we went a long way around checking out the coal mining towns of Singleton and Muswellbrook. I continue to be amazed at the ridiculous number of coal mines there are in Australia, it is truly absurd. Our park up for the night was the serene Spring Gully in Golbourn River National Park. I set up my hammock and spent the afternoon lying in it and reading a booking with the sound of the flowing river soothing my senses.

Due to the horrendous weather and flooding, we hadn’t been able to make any concrete plans for a couple of weeks. We knew vaguely that we were heading towards the Blue Mountains but we had no knowledge of what was on the way or where we would stay which was a bit of fun and landed us in our first ghost town of the day in Upper Bylong. The road we picked was littered with old houses that were numbered and covered with Keep Out signage, the further we went the worse the houses looked and the rougher the road got until it was nothing but a track through severely overgrown grass. When we got phone service back I looked up the town and discovered that the entire place was bought out for a coal mine by the Korea Electric Power Corporation.  Fortunately, the High Court of Australia rejected the project due to the severe environmental and agricultural impacts the mine would have caused so the valley will remain unspoilt. That night we pulled up at Ganguddy-Dunns Swamp Campground where we did our first naughty free camp for the trip. The issue was that there were very limited campsites in the area we were travelling through, the biggest one being a national park site. I went online and tried to book but the park was coming up as full and I couldn’t reserve or pay for a spot. We decided that with the shit weather some people wouldn’t bother showing up and sure enough that evening there were so many empty sites it was a joke. We picked the worst one we could find to soothe my guilt a little and set up.

The next morning we cooked a reasonably early breakfast and then popped the van into the day use in case the park ranger did the rounds and sure enough 30 minutes later a ute rolled in and started checking all the overnighters. I rumerated about online booking systems and how much better the NT was with their first in, best dressed, cash payment system. I guess at the end of the day the people that didn’t show up or cancel still paid so the park didn’t lose out on any money but we wont be making a habit of that style of stealth camping that’s for sure. There were a few nice walks around the park and we picked the short but challenging Pagoda Lookout and then went down the other side to see the impressive Long Cave. I took my big camera lens and managed to get a couple of bird photos along the way. At the end of the walk Matt decided to go for a swim in the river to freshen up before we continued on our way to Glen Davis and then further around the corner to Newnes where we decided to spend the night.

Newnes was incredible, I couldn’t believe that I’d never heard of it before or the rich history of the abandoned town based around the creation of a oil shale mine. Construction of the main works site began in 1906 and was completed in 1911 becoming one of the largest shale oil schemes in Australia and supplying the country with crude oil, paraffin and benzene. The site closed in 1932 leaving behind ruins of the immence mining, processing, and distillation buildings as well as a huge line of coke ovens. Matt and I drove over to the site in the morning and spent a good hour wandering around the area. When we’d had our fill of shale oil we drove back over the river and then around to the Glow Worm Tunnel walk which was part of the railway used to transport goods to and from the mine. It was a bit of a hike to the tunnel through wet forest but was definitely worth the trouble as the walls were lined with little blue specs. We spent the night at a little free camp down in the valley of the Blue Mountains.

Campsite Reviews

Spring Gully Campground – A gorgeous free camp in a little known national park. We had the entire place to ourselves and camped up on a little hill overlooking the river. $Free – 7/10.

Ganguddy-Dunns Swamp Campground – If you like watersports this is an amazing place to stay. There is a beautiful river and lagoon system where you can swim, kayak, boat and fish to your hearts content. $34.85pn (or free if you do the wrong thing) – 7/10 it was nice but definitely not $35pn nice.

Newnes Hotel – Unfortunately the free camp was well and truly booked out and we couldn’t even sneak in so we forked out for the hotel campground. It was very pleasant next to a little stream with lots of birds all around but I was a bit miffed to discover our camping fee did not include showers which were an additional $5pp. $25 for one night, $40 for two, $50 for 3 and so on – 6/10.

Blackheath Glen Reserve – Tiny little free camp in the blue mountains with clean toilets but very limited sites. We saw so many gang gang cockatoos here. $Free – 5/10.

Golden Guitar, Falling Trees, and a Navy Bodyguard

You can’t leave Tamworth without a visit to the Golden Guitar so before we made our departure we popped in to see the huge instrument and visit the underwhelming visitor centre. We also swung by the local camera shop as Matt has made a couple of comments about wanting some decent binoculars to look at wildlife because apparently holding up my 3kg camera and looking through the lens of a device you have no knowledge of how to use is “annoying”, go figure. I thought that a camera shop in the country where most of the customers would be farmers would probably have some good quality binoculars that weren’t too expensive, an assumption paid off and he walked out with a great set for just over $100. Cheers Tamworth!

We stopped for lunch and so that Matt could make a work call in a small town called Walcha. While he spoke with his colleagues I had a wander around the small Main Street popping into the CWA/Craft shop and having a chat with the ladies in there as well as taking in some of the frankly bizarre art that was scattered along the road. My favourite piece was the fountain in the park where a bronze and very serious looking naked man and woman stood under a tin roof which was being showered with water by a series of bowls attached to a spiralling piece of metal. The only sign that could indicate to the viewer what on earth they might be looking at simply read “slippery when wet”…something that I didn’t think needed to be said when referring to a fountain. Just up the road we rescued and rehomed yet another horny turtle (I’ve recently learnt most of the wanderers are males looking for new women to mate with) and then drove out to Apsley Falls where we set up camp and indulged in a free firewood fire.

The next morning we completed the walking track to multiple lookouts around the plunging cascades. The falls were at full strength and it didn’t seem to matter what part of the track we were on there was a constant swirling mist around us. The falls themselves were hands down the best waterfalls I’ve ever seen both tumbling well over 50m into deep brown pools below. It made the afternoon waterfall Tia look a bit lame in comparison. That night we put up our very wet awning in Oxley Wild Rivers National Park campground called Mooraback which is the most leach infected place I have ever visited. Even with my hiking boots on and socks tucked into my pants they still managed to crawl up my legs and I found myself having to stop every 5m to shake the buggers off. That night we had another unpleasant surprise when a tree came crashing down into the fortunately empty site next to ours. I nearly pooped my pants lying in the van and hearing that horrible cracking creaking sound that I know full well comes before the earth shaking bang a tree makes, my panicked brain strained trying to remember if I’d done my usual check of trees nearby the maximise our safety, I had. On Saturday morning we woke up to yet more mizzle (mist and drizzle) and packed up our wet gear. By now we’d had over a week of almost constant rain and we were both completely over it and both constantly damp, neither of us took much convincing to give up on New England and head to the coast to spend some time in a house with Matt’s mate Sheep but we decided to make it a bit interesting and made our way there via a 4WD track through Werrikimbe National Park.

In our “Best 100 Australian 4WDs” book the track was touted as having incredible forests and views but sadly the incredible forests had burnt away and the views were shrouded in mist. We pressed on until at almost the end of the track we were stopped by a deep fast flowing creek and had to go back out the way we went in. After that muck around and then a side trip to the biggest blood redwood in Australia we realised we wouldn’t make it the whole way to Newcastle and I found what I thought would be a good rest stop in the Showgrounds in Taree. The facilities were nice, the care taker was friendly, and we immediately hit it off with an older navy bloke and his wife and dogs that were parked up on the soggy ground. He told us all about his time in the navy and the shenanigans he got up to and later that night when some drug addled blokes started wandering around the Showgrounds shouting abuse at non-existent foes he came over and offered to protect us which was beyond kind even if I was a bit skeptical that a 70yo bloke that was shorter than me could take on a raging meth head. We turned in early to get out of the rain and settled down for what turned out to be a very peaceful sleep.

Campsite Reviews

Apsley Falls – Amazing campsite next to a spectacular waterfall with free wood. Matt and I are both really enjoying the NSW national park sites. The only thing that would make it better would be a shower but I guess you can go near the waterfall for that. $6pp/pn – 8/10.

Mooraback – You know a campsite is in a beautiful spot when it is raining, full of leeches and a tree tries to fall on you but you still loved staying there. I would recommend going when it isn’t raining because it was flipping cold. $6pp/pn – 8/10.

Taree Showground – Aw man, I wish I could give this place a better rating because the campsite manager was lovely but the show ground was very grim and the town was even worse. You couldn’t pay either of us to go back there. $20pn – 3/10.

Girraween, The Most Beautiful National Park You’ve Never Heard Of

After saying goodbye to Brisbane we decided that we’d head inland rather than continuing the typical van life direction of south down the coast. We’d already seen so much of that part of Australia and we wanted to do something different. Initially we’d planned to revisit Condamine River Road but upon arrival we found that the road had been shut due to flooding and we were forced to rethink our route. I suggested that we head to Queen Mary Falls, have some lunch and then go for a hike. Queen Mary Falls is quite a well known waterfall in the Darling Downs region, it plunges 40m straight off a cliff and in the right light produces rainbows (which we were lucky enough to see). The most popular circuit hike is 2km of ramps down to the base of the falls and then stairs back up to the main car park. It was a great way to stretch the legs. After getting back in the van and heading down the road a little bit we stumbled upon a second waterfall with a less majestic name, Daggs Falls.

We reached Girraween National Park in the late afternoon and set up camp at the surprisingly busy Bald Rock Creek campground. Girraween’s name means ‘place of flowers’ which it certainly lived up to the next morning when Matt and I decided to tackle the hardest hike in the park and climb the pyramid. Before things turned hectic (which I will get to) the track climbed gently through eucalypt forest where we spotted wildflowers of every possible colour nestled amongst the granite boulders. Before long the plants disappeared and we faced the ridiculous prospect of the pyramid. Imagine the steepest ramp you’ve ever seen, make it a bit steeper so you almost can’t walk up it, and that will give you a pretty good understanding of what the hike is like. Climbing the front face wasn’t even the worst part, to reach the summit we had to go to the left and skirt around the side, I kid you not this rock is sloping down towards a huge drop and you’re trying to walk on it half sideways while praying you don’t slip. I was shitting myself. We reached the top unscathed and were rewarded with an absolutely spectacular view over the park. The way back down was entertaining, I worked out fairly quickly that if I leant back and trusted my hiking boots I could shuffle down no worried but there were a surprising number of people that had climbed in sneakers that were trying to scoot down on their bums and tearing their pants to shreds on the granite in the process. On the way back to camp we incorporated The Arch and a section of the Bald Creek Circuit.

Matt has been jonesing to try out the new tyres and therefore after a bit of a rest we drove out to Sundown National Park where he had a bit of a muck around on the 4WDing tracks and firmly established that we had made a great decision increasing the size. I had to agree with him when I had a go in the van, it felt much more solid on off camber surfaces and was handing the rocky tracks like a champion. Sundown National Park wasn’t very interesting to be honest, the highlight was the lookout over Red Rock Gorge where we had lunch. We went back to Girraween via a local chocolate shop and set up for our final night there at the nicer Castle Rock Camping Area.

Campsite Reviews

Bald Rock Creek – Don’t get me wrong this was a nice campsite but I think it would be really challenging to park in if you had anything bigger than our van as a lot of the sites were really sloped. The environment was cool though as it was set amongst these huge granite boulders. $6.75pp/pn – 7/10.

Castle Rock – Definitely our favourite of the two campsites, this spot had large flat grassy sites and an abundance of birdlife. It was also much closer to the trail heads which made everything more convenient. $6.75pp/pn – 8/10.

Perpetual Bundaberg

We didn’t plan on staying in Bundaberg for nearly a week, I like to think that no one would plan to be there for a week, but when you travel the way we do only thinking a couple of days ahead sometimes your schedule gets a bit whacky. We arrived in town on Saturday afternoon which gave us the opportunity to have a quick look around, book in our tour at the Bundaberg Rum distillery, Lady Musgrave Island Cruise, tour of Mon Repos, and then fill up our water tank in a park with some fairly illegal van manoeuvring (there is almost no free potable water in town). We spent Saturday night at the local Scout Camp and got up reasonably early to drive out to the turtle sanctuary. Unfortunately our timing for turtles wasn’t fantastic, we were a couple of weeks too early to do the evening tour to see the turtles laying their eggs but we were also too late to be allowed onto the beach after hours as the mothers had just started coming in but the Mon Repos centre made up for it. At the entry were greeted by a ranger who took us into their theatre and conducted a talk about the turtles of Australia, there was an entertaining projected display across the grounds and walls and we got to watch a turtle lay its eggs and then the babies hatch out and swim into the sea. After the lecture we were set loose in the education centre which was just brilliant. Our favourite part was seeing how we compared to the size of each of the turtle species, some of them were absolutely massive. On our way back into town we stoped at a strawberry farm and had a delicious berry ice cream and then a little further down the road we pulled into a farm gate store and bought a heap of fresh produce. That afternoon we visited a tropical wine and cider distillery and had some of the strangest cider flavours I’ve ever tried including kiwi and ginger. They were nice but we weren’t inspired enough to take any down to our campsite at Kinkuna Beach.

I woke up the next day full of excitement because we booked in to visit Bundaberg Brewed Drinks and Bundaberg Rum. I absolutely adore Bundaberg ginger beer so I was beyond happy to discover there was a great little museum and tasting room specifically for their range of fizzy drinks. Entry was $15 per head and included a 6 pack to take home. After tasting every flavour Matt decided his favourite was the sarsaparilla and I was tossing up between blood orange and Christmas ginger beer. It turned out that the Christmas ginger beer was the drink of the month (unsurprising for December) and was on sale, of course I couldn’t resist buying a case. We had a bit of time to kill before going to our rum tour so we drove to the local art gallery and had a wander through the exhibitions. The curator was a very friendly bloke and heading to Tasmania for an arty holiday so we had a chat about the best places to see. We reached the Big Bundy Bottle just before lunch time and occupied ourselves in the museum learning about the history of the factory and it’s tendency to burn down. I really liked how the entire venture was created as a solution to the waste molasses being produced by local sugar refineries and the amazing wall display of rum bottles. The tour ended up being just as interesting as the museum and we were both amazed at the 7 billion dollars of rum being stored on the site. Our guide informed us that 95% of that product was sold in Australia and 50% of that was Queensland. That’s a lot of rum! To finish off we were offered two free drinks, I had a dark and stormy and banoffee rum liquor with cream which is the first time I’ve had dark rum, I loved it. We walked out of the gift shop with 3 bottles. In the afternoon we went down to the botanical gardens and took quite a few bird photos, turns out with a few rums on board I can still take a decent shot.

On Tuesday morning we were meant to go on our tour of Lady Musgrave Island and had planned to leave Bundaberg on Wednesday; however, it was not to be as a nasty swell had brewed up and the tour was cancelled until at least Thursday. The company were really good and offered us a full refund but we were both happy to keep hanging around so we rebooked for later in the week. We’d almost exhausted things to do in Bundy so we decided to head further afield to the historic town of Childers, which turned out to be a lovely spot. Having nearly run out of clothes we found a laundromat and headed down the street to a brilliant little cafe that did a great flat white. Once our things were washed and dried we walked up and down the historic main street, stumbling upon a historic pharmacy about half way down. If you are even remotely interested in health, history, or medicine, it is well worth going out of your way to visit this amazing museum which has one of the largest displays of historic pharmacological items in Australia. Entry was $5 and included a guided tour where we learnt all about the owners, how the shop developed, and of course the insane 1800s medicines, morphine, heroin, and chloroform cough syrup anyone? Before we headed back to camp in Kinkuna we popped into the local swimming pool to do some laps and have a much needed shower.

Wednesday was a bit of a write off because we were twiddling our thumbs and waiting for our reef tour but we did visit the macadamia nut factory where one of Matt’s friends had helped them to design and implement a machine that half cut the shell of the nut enabling people to open them with a little metal tool rather than having to smash them with a mallet.

Our Lady Musgrave Island tour day broke sunny and clear with a slight wind and a bit of visible chop on the ocean. We made our way down to the marina where we were greeted by our crew. Matt and I went all out when we booked and upgraded to the VIP experience for an extra $85 per head which included access to the fancy top deck, merch, wetsuit hire, and multiple meals. It turned out to be amazing value simply because the rest of our tour was made up of a huge noisy school group who spent most of the journey being sea sick while we luxuriated upstairs with our coffee machine and one other guest. We reached the pontoon in the breathtaking coral cove and jumped onto a glass bottom boat which wizzed us over to the island where we went on a guided walk and learnt about the animals that live there. We’d arrived just in time to see the black noddy chicks sitting in their nests made from sticky leaves and poop. On our way back to the pontoon we watched some turtles having an orgy…ahhh nature. Lunch was a delicious buffet of salads, cold meats, prawns, and for an unknown reason miso soup. Matt and I asked if it was ok if we ate our lunch in the underwater viewing area which the crew said would be fine. It was surreal eating surrounded by fish in the blue light. Feeling very satisfied and full we got kitted up in our snorkelling gear and jumped into the lagoon. We’ve been snorkelling before in Vanuatu and further north in Queensland but it had nothing on this. The colours of the coral and fish, the variety of wildlife, being approached by huge green sea turtles, it was like nothing we’ve ever done before. Matt and I stayed out for the entire allocated time and explored the furthest out of all the other guests, towards the end we spent 15+ minutes hanging out with this one turtle that just wanted to swim around us, absolutely magical. Our ride back was some how choppier than the way out which was highly entertaining. We had a cheese board and drinks for afternoon tea and of course half of it went flying but we were too happy to care.

That evening our second failed attempt to leave Bundaberg came to pass when we noticed on social media a lot of our cycling friends from Brisbane were posting about how they were coming up to Bundaberg. I contacted a couple of them and it turned out there was a cycling carnival the next day. We ended up catching up with our friend Red Dog for pizza for dinner and then the next day popped over to the Bundaberg track and spent the afternoon and evening watching our friends go around in circles really quickly. A few of them were together for an Italian pursuit and I kid you not they pulled off the most outstanding race, it was just beautiful to watch. On Saturday morning, exactly a week after we had arrived we were finally let go by the City of Rum and could make our way to Brisbane.

Campsite Reviews

Wyper Park Scout Camp – Great cheap spot close to town. The amenities are pretty basic and a bit run down but it really reminded me of camping when I was a Girl Guide so that was lovely. $10pn – 7/10.

Kinkuna Beach – Situated in the Burrum Coast National Park this stunning beach side campground was the perfect place to stay for a few nights. No ammenities but it was worth it to walk down the beach each morning and enjoy the birds. $6.85pp/pn – 8/10.

More Queensland Delights

On Friday morning as we packed up camp to leave Stanage Bay I decided to have a peek at the forecast and see what the weekend had in store for us. It turned out to be very lucky that I did as there were some pretty horrible storms lined up, I still can’t believe that even after living in Queensland for 4 years Matt and I forgot about the storm season. I got on the phone to Emma and asked if we could stay for another weekend, which she and Tom confirmed was fine. It worked out very well because it was also Tom’s Birthday so we’d all be able to celebrate together. Rather than head directly back to Yeppoon the way that we’d come we decided to go a little bit off course and visit a local crocodile farm. Koorana turned out to be a fascinating place to visit, we learnt about crocodile farming and the products that are made, but also about the way that the farm operates under the Australian Government’s strategic conservation program working to remove problematic and dangerous animals from the wild. Some of the crocodiles they had were absolutely enormous and even with the high fences between us they put me on edge. If I wasn’t concerned about crocodiles in waterways before we got there I sure as hell was when we left, although that didn’t stop me from holding one of their very cute baby crocs.

Back in Yeppoon we had a fabulous weekend hanging out on the beach, having birthday pizza and drinks, watching the track cycling world championships and doing some yard work. Unfortunately the weather outlook was much better by Tuesday and we’d run out of excuses to stay so we packed up and drove south with a plan to head towards Bundaberg. On our way down to our campsite for the night we stopped in Rockhampton to fill the van up with transmission fluid and then again in Gladstone to buy a new air compressor. No word of a lie it took an hour to pump the tyres up from 8psi to 40psi after we’d done Big Sandy and there was no way we were doing that again, what a waste of time. There was one more bit of drama before we got to Eurimbula in the form of a truck fire on the side of the road. Luckily we’d missed most of the traffic chaos but still slowed down to a creep under the direction of the SES as we drove past the gutted remains of the truck that had be laden with watermelons, of all things.

The next morning I woke up and walked along the beach while Matt made breakfast, I was stoked to see a group of dolphins playing in the calm water of the bay. We took our time packing up as we were just driving down the road to 1770 to spend the morning on the beach and the afternoon in the park next to it so Matt could get some work done. On our way out of town to the national park to camp we found the most amazing gelato store and grabbed a cone each, it would be rude not to! The next day we went on a morning hike up to an uninspiring lookout, drove back into town, returned to the beach, had another surf, met a great guy who also had a white Delica, ate yet another ice cream and then drove back into the national park to camp. On Friday we decided to mix things up a bit with a slightly different morning routine, while eating breakfast we watched a goanna and a brush turkey have a fight and then on the way out of the campground we were driving behind a little Suzuki that was clearly struggling in the soft sand. Unsurprisingly it got bogged so we jumped out to help the occupants, one of which was trying to get to a job interview. Despite being a 4WD no one in the car had any idea what they were doing, the tyre pressure was really high, and Matt had to teach them how to use the deflator. Unfortunately despite the lower air pressure in their tyres, the use of our recovery tracks, and a lot of digging in hot sand (entirely completed by Matt and I) we still couldn’t get them out. By this point we’d amassed quite an audience of other people that were waiting for the track to be cleared so that they could drive past. Matt went over to a likely group of lads and asked if they’d be able to tow the Suzuki out because our Delica hasn’t got any recovery points, it turned out that all of the people watching had thought that it was our car that was bogged and they were all very entertained that it wasn’t, one bloke asked Matt “why isn’t that bloke *gestures at guy that was driving the car* digging himself out?”. The guys did agree to help us tow out the 4WD which lead me to my proudest moment of the trip, I got to use my skills acquired at the 4WDing course we did in February and taught a guy how to use a snatch strap to recover a car. It was great.

Finally with the Suzuki turned around and heading back to the much harder but longer gravel road out of the national park we were all able to get on our way and enjoy our day. Matt and I decided that since we’d had a very lazy couple of ice cream days that we’d do the most popular hike in the area known as The Red Rock Trail. The track followed the edge of the coast up and then along several beautiful beaches. Walking on sand made the going quite challenging but on the way back we stripped into our undies and swam in the sea before drying off under the shade of palm trees. Back in the town and having worked up quite an appetite we grabbed some fish and chips for lunch, while we were waiting the owner came out and gave us some calamari for free which was so good! Because the fish and chip shop was in a little retail area we went and bought Matt another hat, for those of you counting at home this is his 3rd hat purchase for the trip. Hat number 1 flew off into an old railway tank, hat number 2 is still going strong but doesn’t have a wide brim for our resident ginger, hat number 3 has somehow disintegrated into thousands of straw pieces that are now all through the bed. Here’s hoping hat 4 will do the trick!

On Saturday morning we packed up our things to leave 1770/Agnes Waters and continue south to Bundaberg, on the way out we popped into the paperbark forest and walked through the trees. It was a lovely way to end a fantastic few days in a beautiful place.

Campsite Reviews

Eurimbula Creek – We were pleasantly surprised by this campsite as I thought we’d be eaten by mozzies due to the location near the mangroves. The sunset was beautiful, and there were plenty of spacious campsites in a bush setting. $6.75pp/pn – 7/10.

Middle Rock – We loved this campsite, it had great tables, fire rings, and heaps of birds and goannas. We rated it higher than Wreck Rock even though that is the spot that is reviewed as the best campground in Deepwater National Park. There is a great Little Rock pool if you walk down to the beach and head right until you reach the rocks. $6.75pp/pn – 8/10.

Wreck Rock – Unfortunately there weren’t many spots available when we pulled into stay here so we didn’t have a table or any other amenities near us. It was quite nice but not as good as Middle. $6.75pp/pn – 7/10.